Baseball: Local teams ready for postseason push
By Erik Jacobsen firstname.lastname@example.org May 20, 2012 6:56PM
Burlington Central's Zach Ranney helps lead the Rockets into this week's Hampshire Class 3A Regional. | Rob Hart~Sun-Times Media
Updated: July 1, 2012 12:24PM
Postseason success on the baseball field is becoming somewhat routine among teams in the Elgin area.
In four of the past five years local squads have made an appearance in a supersectional, with Streamwood accomplishing the feat last season, Westminster Christian and Huntley making runs to the state finals in 2010, Hampshire claiming a sectional crown in 2008 and Dundee-Crown and Westminster advancing to the state finals in 2007.
With the 2012 Class 3A and 4A playoffs set to begin this week, it is time to assess which area team might add its name to the list with a lengthy postseason run this year.
The prime candidates to still be alive when supersectional play rolls around in two weeks are Burlington Central, South Elgin, St. Charles East and St. Charles North. All four of those squads are the favorites to win their respective regionals as they look to build off successful regular seasons.
With that said, expectations are high all across the local scene. All but one of the area’s 12 big schools have already reached double-digit win totals this spring, and every squad boasts at least one dominant pitcher or top-tier position player. Here’s a look at some of the story lines to follow as the playoffs get under way:
Rockets are team to beat at Hampshire Regional
Burlington Central already secured its fourth straight 20-win season as well as a share of its second Big Northern East title in three years. The Rockets have the area’s biggest slugger in senior catcher Tanner Scott, who has belted 13 home runs this year, and they boast a solid pitching staff that includes seniors Riley Jensen and Zach Ranney and junior Michael Scott.
Now Burlington Central has its sights set on claiming a third regional title in four years as it enters the postseason as the top seed in the Hampshire Class 3A Regional.
“If we play defense we’ve got a chance to make a good run,” Burlington Central coach Kyle Nelson said. “Our defense has been a little suspect, so that’s going to really be our key. We can hit and we can pitch, so it is all going to come down to how well we play defense.”
Despite all the success in recent seasons, the Rockets still don’t have a sectional championship in their program’s history. Their list of playoff disappointments includes a 2-0 loss in their playoff opener against Hampshire last spring.
Burlington Central (24-10) could face the Whip-Purs in Wednesday’s semifinal if fifth-seeded Hampshire (12-17) can beat No. 4 Marengo in a play-in game Monday. The Whips topped the Indians 8-1 in their only meeting during the regular season.
No. 2 Sycamore and No. 3 Crystal Lake Central collide in the regional’s other semifinal Thursday. During the regular season Burlington Central beat Crystal Lake Central 6-3, topped Sycamore 7-3, rolled past Hampshire 15-8 and thumped Marengo twice. But the Rockets know better than to rest on their laurels.
“As much as last year’s (playoff loss) was tough, it hopefully opened some guys’ eyes that any team can lose any game,” Nelson said. “That’s the nature of a single-elimination tournament. If you don’t come ready to play any given day, that could be it for you.”
Storm hoping to regain form at Larkin Regional
South Elgin charged to a 16-4 start to the campaign, but the Storm faded down the stretch with eight losses in its final 10 games of the regular season.
With the playoffs here, South Elgin looks to recapture some of the swagger that helped it land the No. 1 seed in the Larkin Class 4A Regional.
“Getting back to the winning ways means playing the game the right way, throwing strikes, turning double plays, getting clutch hits and playing with urgency and energy,” South Elgin coach Jim Kating said. “That’s the goal we have to have.”
The Storm (18-12) opens postseason play with a semifinal against the fourth-seeded Royals on Wednesday with hopes of duplicating its 6-0 win against Larkin in early April. No. 2 Barrington takes on No. 3 Elgin in the regional’s other semifinal Thursday.
With only four teams in the field, the championship and a berth in next week’s McHenry Sectional appear to be up for grabs. Elgin (12-23) and Larkin (11-22) might have sub-.500 records, but both have hung tough with some of the top teams in the Upstate Eight throughout the season.
“I think all four teams have a legit chance of winning this,” Elgin coach Dave Foerster said. “We all have strengths, and I think ours suits us well for the regional with our strong pitching.”
Dogfight expected at Huntley Regional
Nothing is expected to come easy at the Huntley Class 4A Regional, where the top three seeds all have at least 18 wins and plenty of reasons to think they’ll be moving on to next week’s McHenry Sectional.
The action starts Monday when No. 4 Dundee-Crown hosts No. 5 Rockford Jefferson in a play-in game. The Chargers are only 8-20-1 entering the playoffs, but senior center fielder Jake Romano headlines a lineup that includes a number of veterans who played a part on the program’s 24-win regional championship team from last year.
With a win Dundee-Crown would move on to play No. 1 Crystal Lake South in Wednesday’s semifinal. The Gators earned a share of the Fox Valley Valley title and beat the Chargers twice during the regular season.
Thursday’s semifinal pits No. 2 Jacobs (18-14) and No. 3 Huntley (20-14) in an intriguing matchup of area teams loaded with young talent.
The Golden Eagles boast a deep pitching staff that owns a collective 2.41 ERA on the season. They split their two FVC Valley meetings with Huntley and Crystal Lake South and won all three times they played Dundee-Crown.
“Jacobs has never won a regional,” Jacobs coach Jamie Murray said. “I think we’ve prepared ourselves all year. We’ve pitched well, we played good defense. We have a good group of seniors that blends well with our strong junior class, but we know it’s going to be tough.”
Saints, North Stars ready for challenge
Four local teams are spread throughout three regionals that feed into next week’s Schaumburg Class 4A Sectional.
Bartlett (16-18) owns the No. 16 seed in the sectional and hosts No. 17 Streamwood (10-25) on Monday in a play-in game in the Lake Park Regional. The winner advances to play No. 1 Geneva in a semifinal Wednesday. No. 8 Lake Park and No. 9 Glenbard West meet in the other semifinal Thursday.
The Hawks clawed to a 10-9 win in their only meeting this season with the Sabres, who have had a disappointing campaign after returning several key contributors from last year’s team that finished 30-7 and won a sectional. Streamwood can change the plot in a hurry, though, by recapturing its playoff magic in coach Steve Diversey’s final year at the helm.
St. Charles North (23-12) is the No. 2 seed and proved capable of catching fire by winning 16 out of 17 games during the middle of the season.
The North Stars will look to avoid another quick playoff exit during the York Regional after losing in a regional semifinal last year. They take on the winner of Monday’s play-in game between No. 15 Conant and No. 18 West Chicago on Wednesday. No. 6 York and No. 10 Schaumburg collide in the other semifinal Thursday.
St. Charles East (22-10) owns the No. 3 seed and hosts its own regional, which begins Wednesday when it takes on No. 14 Hoffman Estates. The winner advances to play the winner of Thursday’s semifinal between No. 7 Glenbard North and No. 11 Glenbard East.
The Saints are fresh off winning the Upstate Eight River title, which marked their second league championship in as many years. Winning a third consecutive regional title is the team’s next priority.
“We had a little spell where we weren’t playing very well and things weren’t going our way, and hopefully (winning the conference title last week) will be a good springboard into the tournament,” St. Charles East coach Len Asquini said.
—Brandon Mangia and Joel Reuter contributed